When one hears the word investment, perhaps visions of money come to mind. However, in the greater scope of the word, to invest in something means to put something forth in the hope that it will return more value than was originally put in (also known as ROI, or return on investment). This can be true for people, goals, services, and infrastructure.
Dictionary.com defines one usage of invest (verb) as “to use, give, or devote (time, talent, etc.), as for a purpose or to achieve something.”
Investing in people
Investing in people may take infusion of money, time, skill, patience, and so on. Think of raising children, either as parents or as educators. Yet our investment in our children is an investment in our own futures; that is, where our society goes, what it will embrace, and how we will be treated when we are vulnerable and elderly people in that society.
Another example is investing in someone’s education. It is based on the premise that with better education, a person will be able to get a better job, make a better living (and thus be more self sufficient), and pay more taxes. Thus, an infusion of a certain amount of money now will translate into considerably more money later, and usually result in an ongoing source of it. For a parent, investing in a child’s education goes beyond the monetary reward: it is peace of mind that the child will do well long after the parent is gone. Extending that even further, that child, upon becoming a parent who is financially comfortable, will pass this well being on to his or her own children, thus the grandchildren of the original investor—a gift that keeps on giving.
How many volunteers have been amazed by the effects of their contribution? I have heard many say they felt they received more than they gave. This came in the form of emotional satisfaction, in the friendships or connections they made, or in the knowledge and experience they acquired. Sometimes they received credentials or got a link to a job. But at the fundamental level, their contribution of time and energy translated into helping someone to achieve something, who then ended up better off than they were before, whether it was a single person, a collective of people, an organization, or an institution.
People invest in
- their goals
- their education
- their families
- their jobs
- their own businesses
- causes they believe in
- their hobbies
- their relationships
in addition to any assets or financial instruments.
They invest any combination of
- material resources
When what you give comes back multi-fold
Who has not heard “two heads are better than one” or “the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”?
If a person is part of your close-knit collective, not investing in that person when he or she has an opportunity to become something better is cutting yourself off at the knees. Their loss is your loss just as their gain can easily become your gain. This is particularly true in cases of shared living expenses, such as with spouses, where an increase in salary of one spouse benefits both spouses, raising the living standards of both to a new level, higher than either spouse could achieve individually. To not only deny but to actively prevent support of such an endeavour is self-destructive.
Stated in such a way, the mechanism seems obvious. Yet, in real life scenarios, it may not be as clear.
- To be sure, any investment involves risk, and not all investments pan out all of the time, especially when conditions change along the way. In contrast, taking no action is guaranteed to bring no improvement. Therefore, risking a number of actions may eventually lead to a success large enough to warrant any mistakes or situational changes along the way.
- Although the goal is clear, the path to get there and the magnitude of success, should the endeavour succeed, may not always be apparent at the outset, may be subject to change, or may come with no guarantee.
- A person may believe that he or she is simply giving, not realizing or forgetting that, should the investment succeed, both will receive. An example is when one spouse pays the rent/mortgage (and sometimes even contributes to fees) while the other spouse upgrades his or her education or professional development. If the second spouse starts earning double the original income because of the investment in education, then both spouses benefit. Whatever the first spouse invested—money and/or faith—can return in multiples. At double the income of one spouse, the couple’s yearly combined income is much higher than their previous potential, and this continues year after year.
Investing in others—the ones you select and want to invest in—often equates to investing in yourself, either directly or indirectly, and can manifest as true gains or simply a healthy satisfaction. I have known people who were either too selfish or too fearful to invest in others. They were driven by the idea that it was a one-way transaction, so they felt they were not obligated to help anyone. Well, certainly they weren’t. Investing in someone is a choice, of course.
It all comes down to how one defines “investment,” and what one feels it is worth.
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Are human beings worth it? Read Amy’s story in Return on Investment: I’m Talking People.